• Thrive Inc.

Five Mistakes that Stall Your Team and What to Do About Them

If you lead a team, you may have noticed that the issues you used to face in the physical world have become even more challenging in a virtual environment. It’s more important than ever to be aware of your behavior to ensure you’re leading effectively and aren’t falling into a trap.

We’ve worked with so many good leaders who are making basic mistakes that undermine the team’s forward progress and stall the business. A great company or leader isn’t one that never makes a mistake, it’s one that makes mistakes and recognizes they have the resilience and ability to use that mistake to grow and develop.

Join us this week and hear five common mistakes we’ve seen leaders make, and how you can use them to improve the effectiveness of your team. We’re discussing the benefits of working with others, and how learning from these mistakes can help you have honest, productive conversations with your team.

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • Some behaviors exhibited by a good leader.

  • The importance of making sure all team members are seen and heard.

  • Some tools to work effectively with teams.

  • How to learn from mistakes and challenges.

  • Some actions leaders take that disrupt the trust of the organization.

  • The absolute worst thing you can do as a leader.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I am CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships both in person and virtually.

Susan: We are starting 2021 with a series based on our book, The Beauty of Conflict for Teams. We’ll be sharing tips, tools about how to make your team work more effectively especially in this remote and virtual environment. We hope you’ll walk away from this episode and this series with some fresh ideas that change your day, your week and even your life.

Well, welcome to our second installment of our special series, The Beauty of Conflict for Teams which we’ll be running here in this first quarter. And it is on our book, based on our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage. And we’re going to take you right into one of the chapters. This is chapter 25, five mistakes that stall your team and what to do about them.

CrisMarie: Good leaders make basic mistakes that undermine the team’s forward progress and stall the business. So listen to this leadership team of a manufacturing company at their monthly strategic meeting. Fritz, the Chief Marketing Officer says passionately, “We need to put our energy into positioning our new product line and stop spending so much time focusing on the legacy product.” “I totally disagree”, Stanley, Chief of Operations jumps in. “We need to make sure we don’t lose the customers that got us here while we’re inventing something new.”

Fritz counters, “We definitely need new products.” Betsy chimes in, the CFO, and laments to Michael the CEO, “Fritz and Stanley may both be right. We won’t know until we do a detailed analysis.” Michael says, “Okay, okay. Fritz and Stanley, you two take your feud offline, we don’t have time to do a detailed analysis, Betsy. We need to make a decision by the end of the week. If you don’t come to a solution I will.” Fast forward, Fritz and Stanley never come to a solution.

In the next meeting, Michael, the CEO lays out the product strategy plan that maintains focus on the existing customer base. Surprised that Michael made a decision without a discussion the team listens quietly at the table, because they still were at the table at this point, nodding their heads. Michael interprets those head nods as agreement and commitment. So Michael made several mistakes in this scenario. Do you know what they are? Susan, what’s the first one?

Susan: Well, the first one is that kind of classic line where he said, “You two take that feud offline”, between, I can’t remember.

CrisMarie: Fritz and Stanley.

Susan: Yes.

CrisMarie: Fritz the Marketing Officer and Stanley the Operations guy.

Susan: Now, there’s a couple of things wrong with that. One, even if they do successfully take it offline and they come to sort of agreement, the discussion that they’re having around the importance of the plan for marketing and how they’re going to solve it, everyone needs to hear it. So that’s the first problem.

CrisMarie: Because if you’re actually making a product strategy between whether we stay on existing products or we develop something new, you want your whole team and their brain power around that because that’s a huge impact on the business strategy.

Susan: I don’t know how many times we are with teams and this would have been one of them, but other teams where it’s really two people’s strategy about the best thing for the business, whether it’s growth or whether it’s going to be we need to be more a quality focused. And those two, if they’re at odds with each other and they don’t really talk about it together, it just fractures further down in the organization because the people further down who are…

CrisMarie: They’re like, “What do we do? Is it quality or is it growth?”

Susan: Yeah. And what happens then is they usually align around their particular leader which actually does not help the situation, it just makes it worse.

CrisMarie: So then teams start operating in silos because the leadership team isn’t having the tough conversations. And that phrase, take it offline, you two take it offline. What happens is those two people are having a hard enough time having this conversation. Do you think they’re really going to have that conversation with each other without the support of the team? No, they don’t do it.

Susan: What can be helpful is if I’m on your team and I’m listening to you and someone else who has very different value propositions or strategy ideas I might be able to kind of be the bridge in between because I might see the value in both of those and be able to help my team members sort through the differences.

CrisMarie: So the key here is to treat your team meetings as your playing field. Don’t try to solve or have those discussion offline. The context of the team, other people listening are valuable in helping two people who are fighting over strategies really see into each other’s worlds and bridge that gap and have that conversation. So don’t take it offline, if you hear yourself saying it, really we want that red flag to be going off in your head.

Or if you hear your leader saying you may want to say, “Well, wait a minute, I think this is an important discussion and I think it would be hard for them to have a meeting about it without the rest of us”, and see what happens.

Susan: Okay. So now what about the second mistake, CrisMarie, or do I get to identify them all?

CrisMarie: No. The second mistake is focusing only on the business problem. So this was again, Fritz wanting to invent new products and Stanley, Head of Operations really wanting to maintain the existing business and quality around it. So when you focus just on solving the business problem, what do you miss, Susan?

Susan: Well, in some respects what can start to happen is the two people who have the different perspectives actually become more and more divided and can get in each other’s way because they haven’t really aligned and agreed to anything, they’re not committed to the overall business strategy.

CrisMarie: So they’re more entrenched in their own silo and point of view.

Susan: Yeah. And you may miss, like the question asked in this scenario is…

CrisMarie: This is the magic tool.

Susan: The magic tool is, why is this is so important to you? So for Fritz to ask Stanley, “Why is it so important to you that we solve this problem first? Why is that where you’re focusing?” And really see if he can understand it and vice versa, Fritz could do that, Stanley could do that with Fritz.

CrisMarie: Yeah, “Fritz, why do you think going into new products is so important?” And Fritz asking Stanley, “Why is it so important that we maintain our existing business?”

Susan: And if you go at it from that perspective then you get that IQ of each of those critical subject matter experts about why they’re taking the position they do. You don’t have to decide which one you’re going to take yet. But you get their input out on the table.

CrisMarie: We have been with teams over and over again and this is when we are facilitating team meetings, now even virtually, slowing that conversation down and we’ll ask those questions to those two people. And what starts to percolate, when people really start to answer why is this so important to me? Because I think we’re going to miss the next big window. Our competitors are doing this. And you get what’s inside, how they’re putting their world together, the same with Stanley on the, we need to maintain our existing product line.

And what starts to happen is new ideas start to emerge and you start to – actually you’re not trying to solve the problem of new products, old products, you actually get down to, oh my gosh, we need to innovate. You get to a lower level root cause discussion. When you start to slow people down and they talk about what’s important to them, you get to more their values, their thinking and new creative ideas emerge.

Susan: I was thinking about this from a standpoint of something probably a little more current and recent and how there’s all these different products for virtual meetings. You could use Teams. You could use Zoom.

CrisMarie: The video?

Susan: Videos. And usually what happens when we - Webex or…

CrisMarie: Google Meet.

Susan: Google Meet and often when we’ve brought up, so we have our favorite which we like Zoom because we love the breakouts. But often the conversation gets stopped pretty quickly with whatever, like I fight for breakouts. I was thinking of somebody else that was like, “We want to make sure it’s private and Zoom has horrible, security, security, security.” But what’s missing in that conversation is, okay, so why is Zoom so important to me? Or why is security so important to you? Let’s talk about that. And not just do the classic well, you know.

CrisMarie: Fighting over strategy [crosstalk] solution.

Susan: Yeah. And for me when I actually started to help me understand, I actually felt like when I got asked that question and this was through some work with Microsoft because I was coaching some people there. And they wanted to know why I still was interested in Zoom. And they kept telling me the reason I shouldn’t be but it still wasn’t working until they said, “Why does that?” And I explained how frustrated I got with how Teams did breakouts and how I didn’t have any control over it and how I couldn’t actually go in and different things.

And at that moment I actually felt like someone was listening to me. Now, I’m not going to say that I inspired Microsoft to change their Teams but I do know now they added some dimensions and I think some of that is because maybe they did ask that question. And I think those sort of things, that’s what I mean, find out why someone is fighting for something or fighting against something. And you might actually begin to get to, well, wait a minute, we could do that and still have security covered.

CrisMarie: So I think really, and also you said something in the midst of all that Susan, that I think is pretty powerful is you felt seen and heard when somebody asked you that question. And too often when people are fighting over their strategy, they’re fighting to be heard. And there’s kind of like a desperate nature, it needs to be his way. And it’s really right or wrong, black and white, either or thinking.

And as soon as somebody feels seen and heard they kind of soften and open, and open to other possibilities. And I think that’s why we see so many creative solutions come out of those discussions when we’re facilitating those team meetings and we ask each of those people those questions.

Susan: Yeah, makes all the difference in the world. Alright, so we’re going on to mistake number three.

CrisMarie: So the mistake that Michael made in that meeting when he was rolling out the product strategy and nobody said anything and they were nodding their heads is, is assuming head nods means yes, I agree with you. Leaders make this mistake all the time. And head nods could be like hear you, ah-hm, I think it’s a stupid idea but I’m going to, ah-hm, I’m taking it in. I don’t actually understand a word you’re saying, it could mean that.

Susan: Or even just hearing a yes isn’t necessarily no, doesn’t mean anything. Yes, I agree with you because it’s really problematic if I don’t. Or we really encourage teams to go an extra step, take that yes, no out of it and ask your team mates are you thumbs up? This is just one example.

CrisMarie: Well, let’s be explicit. So rather than just being the tacit, it could be I’m thinking about what you’re saying but we go to suggesting that the team be explicit. Where are you in relationship to this idea? Do you agree with it? And we use thumbs because that’s a quick tool.

Susan: Yeah. And so thumbs up means yes, I’m all in. Thumbs sideways means I might agree with it but there’s some issues that I still have. And thumbs down means no, I’m not bought in at all.

CrisMarie: And through a video meeting this is really easy to use right now.

Susan: And even if you have somebody who isn’t on the video, they can punch, you know.

CrisMarie: They can state.

Susan: They can state where their thumb is.

CrisMarie: And the key is then you want to go back to the people that are sideways and down and say, “Okay, what’s going on for you? Why do you not like this or what are your concerns?” And then you’re focusing the dialog in the right locations where people do have concerns. And a lot of times you can do, “Okay, where are we on this idea?” And everybody’s got a thumbs up. So you can stop talking about it and move on.

Susan: Now, I don’t think we covered this in the book but I’m just going to say this here too just because I think it’s so critical. And then make sure after, what is it that you think we all just agreed to? And have people, because I don’t know how many times I have been coaching various people on a team and when I’m in a coaching session after a big team meeting and they’re telling me what they thought they agreed to do. And I’m like, “Well, that’s actually not what I thought any of you agreed to.”

And how often sometimes somebody takes away the one piece they heard and so often that can be a problem too because I can think of in particular recently a leader I was working with who was so frustrated with his team that, “Why are they not doing it?” And frankly I really was like, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that that’s what you wanted.” And he was saying, “I did.” And I was like, “Well, even if you did, when I was at the meeting I didn’t hear that. And you should ask, what do you think I’m asking from you right now because you are so frustrated by this.”

CrisMarie: So that is a great tool, what are we agreeing to and codify it, really be clear. And if you’re the leader you can say, “What are you hearing me say? What do you think I’m saying?” As a way – you can use this at home too with your relationship, anywhere, “What do you hear me saying?” As a way of seeing did this actually land? Did you take in what I said? Because so often people hear things in very different ways, I think that’s a great point Susan.

Susan: If you’re giving performance feedback to someone you know that that can be a difficult thing in the first place. So it becomes really your job to say, “What do you think is the most important three things that we talked about in this performance review? You tell me.” Too many times I’ve seen leaders say, “Let me tell you again. These are the three things you need to do different.” They don’t go in any different when you’re yelling at them.

CrisMarie: Or repeating them. So really slow down, I think so often we’re thinking we’re being efficient, we all agree. And whether it’s a performance review or a meeting, slow down and this is often our role when we’re there. “So you folks are agreeing to x, y and z, yes?” And I’m putting it on flipcharts so it’s captured. And people go, “Well, no.” And then there’s more discussion. Important to have it then versus three weeks from now when people have gone off in all different directions and now you have to pull it all back and rework it.

Susan: Believe it or not it really does help to have someone write it on a flipchart, not type it into a computer, I don’t know how many times people have sent notes around, they have someone who can type fast but actually isn’t a part of the meeting. And then that’s just really kind of asking for a problem.

CrisMarie: So yeah, the notes that you want to take are just the key phrases, the decisions, the key communications, next steps, parking lot, things like that, not every word in a meeting. So let’s go onto what are some other mistakes that Michael made?